The book was published in conjunction with the exhibition "Not Just"
Decmber 2007-January 2008, Chelouche Gallery, Tel Aviv
128 pages, hardcover
First Course / Main Course / Side Dish / Dessert
Oil / spread / mix / peel / press / beat / add / chop / mince / remove / brown / take / boil / fry / return / add / pour / beat / spread / scrape / rub / arrange / cover / shred / spoil / roll / sprinkle / dissolve / remove / wash / daub / place / warm / stir / mash / boil / lower / leave / dry / stab / set down / chill / spread / arrange / store / grind / pour / sauté / flame / cook / cool / freeze / turn / serve / mince / chop / assemble / sift / cut / spice / insert
Nurit Yarden offers a generous, intimate gift: Six gourmet meals from the recipe box inherited from my mother. Her mother, whom she calls Dr. Yarden's wife, was an excellent cook, an artist of the kitchen whose meals were esteemed among acquaintances and friends, weaving around the family table webs of addiction to culinary pleasures and their comforts. When she died, her daughter inherited her recipes, but rather than going into the kitchen, tying an apron around her waist and continuing the glorious tradition, she chose to put these recipes of female knowledge and good taste into an artist-book mold, spreading out in each page – just like fricassée layers in the oven – layers of texts, images and words. At the bottom of the "pot" she placed a word – a title – whose function resembles that of the pea under the mattresses on which the princess slept: "pricking," upsetting, and keeping you awake, like a grain of hot pepper in sweet compote.
The culinary format of the gourmet meals from the kitchen of Dr. Yarden's wife dictated the book's structure, as if it were a universal formula: a finger-licking first course to start with (artichoke fricassée, or moussaka); then comes the main course, a meat dish (veal stew, Boeuf Bourguignon, or fish with capers), along with side dishes – steaming hot and great smelling (suzette or Dauphinoise potatoes); and finally, sweetly whipped, the dessert (pears in snow, lemon parfait, or sorbet). Thus a cycle of six appetizing meals relate a narrative of pampering domesticity, which is also reflected in the photos scattered among them: pitchers of cream and mint lemonade, tableware and tablecloths, and handmade cross-stitch embroideries that say: Home is where the heart is.
As if separating speech from voice, Nurit Yarden has severed cooking from the pleasure of eating and has refused, in effect, to take on that daily practice; adopting, as it were, a "masculine" tactic, allowing herself to take pleasure without any preceding effort… And yet she blends her visual materials meticulously and skillfully into her own lethal parfait: like a film screened in slow motion, frame by frame, it is permeated with the covert interweaving of family with sexuality, perfect education with abuse, dependability and security with calamity and suspicion. These recipes, bearing the knowledge of fine cuisine, have turned in her hands into an accusatory document even while emitting the lovely smells of the kitchen.
Scrutiny of the numerous verbs in the recipes reveals an active, violent language: the housewife is required to "beat eggs," "grate carrots," "cut," "dice," "boil," and "freeze." Every once and again she also "rubs," "squeezes," and "rolls"… She "inserts" and "pulls out," "squirts" and "grinds." The culinary language of the kitchen suddenly sounds like a faint echo of activities carried out in other rooms, and their immaculate writing, deaf and impervious to any other meaning, provokes a sense of unease. But that discomfort is soon covered up by good virtues: order and cleanliness, good taste, modesty and restraint. Nurit Yarden's photographs would never allow the milk to overflow, they stand for self-possession and moderation. Under the title Watermelon, for instance, she shows an empty plate on a tablecloth-covered table, with a fork lying across it. The watermelon slice has already been eaten, and only scraps remain on the plate: some seeds, and two small red shreds of the eaten fruit's flesh; pinkish droplets, threads of the fruit's crisp flesh, like pale blood, lie in the bottom of the plate, neither crying out nor protesting.
The Boeuf Bourguignon and the Strawberry Charlotte, the dicing and the whipping, are the background noise to the lives of the photographed women in the book: a group of the photographer's friends, which a title designates as Feminists, occupied by – what else? – cooking, laundry folding, abdominal exercises, and the application of an anti-aging cream… Trapped between feminist declarations and their traditional female roles, it seems that they haven't quite resolved the secret of their double life, which is inherently paradoxical. The theme is metaphorically continued in the series Women from my Shelf: photographs of stacks of books, all written by or about women: Cindy Sherman, Donna Tartt, Elsa Morante, Yehudit Hendel, Lea Aini… Is it by chance that Yarden chose to photograph this feminine literature on a well-stretched light-blue fabric, with the volumes laid out on top of each other like lasagna layers in a baking pan, rather than in the customary upright arrangement of books on shelves?
Enlisting her friends as well as women artists and writers – her allies in the feminine space – Yarden turns these six gourmet meals into a general scheme, comprising six complex views of the home interior and of relationships in the family institution. She also inserts the flicker of pages from news websites, identifying the place and time of occurrences: "a combined operation in the Gaza Strip"; "Double terrorist act thwarted in Tel Aviv"; "Six Palestinians killed"; "The invasion of Iraq" – all accompanied by a banner: "A great vacation in Croatia and Slovenia." In each Home Page corner there are photos from her own family album, taken on family vacations: her mother in a red sweater against a backdrop of green forests; her father in a stylish silk blouse; father and Nurit sitting in a coffee shop on a Swiss mountain slope, a pipe stuck in his mouth and his arm around his little girl's waist…
Refusing to shut itself in between the stove and the pantry, Nurit Yarden's recipe book appends to itself that complex, multi-channeled reality. Desires seep into calm still-life formations, and the war in Iraq is absorbed into the veal stew in the oven. Nurit Yarden seats all of these around the lovely dishes and fine recipes, blending the horrendous and violent with the beautiful and tasty. There, around the table, it is unclear where the gaze is unleashed from, whose nostrils widen in anticipation of the kill, and who is about to lay his hand upon whom – but the identity of the cherry is unmistakable.
Text by Tali Tamir